Arkansas companies awarded USDA clean energy grants

Submitted photo from March 27, 2024 of Christian and Heidi Batteau's USDA grant-funded solar array in Witter, Ark. in Madison County. the array went online last month and is expected to save them $5,083 a year, replacing 68,809 kilowatt hours of energy annually, or 122% of their historic usage. Photo courtesy of Neal Sliger.
Submitted photo from March 27, 2024 of Christian and Heidi Batteau's USDA grant-funded solar array in Witter, Ark. in Madison County. the array went online last month and is expected to save them $5,083 a year, replacing 68,809 kilowatt hours of energy annually, or 122% of their historic usage. Photo courtesy of Neal Sliger.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is giving eight Rural Energy for America Program grants worth a combined $307,000 to Arkansas companies, six to install solar arrays, one for an energy-efficient grain bin monitoring system and another for upgrades to an existing renewable energy system.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced $124 million in program grants for 542 projects in 44 states last week, tying the investments to additional financial opportunities for farmers and entrepreneurs.

The 2022 Inflation Reduction Act provides more than $2 billion in funding for renewable energy systems and energy efficiency improvements for agricultural producers and rural small businesses through 2031. USDA Rural Development is accepting applications for the funding and allocating money in six stages. The grants provide up to 50% of the funding for projects.

"Powering rural Arkansans with modern, renewable energy infrastructure creates good-paying jobs and provides opportunities for people to drive economic prosperity and security," USDA Rural Development Arkansas Director Jill Floyd said in a news release. "This investment will help these rural businesses increase income, spur economic growth, address climate change and lower energy costs."

In Harriet, in Searcy County, Ink Properties is getting $32,363 to retrofit a rental cabin's existing renewable energy system with solar panel upgrades, including new inverters and batteries that will replace the use of a generator, saving $5,431 and 2,282 gallons of propane a year.

A $49,655 grant to B,E&S Partnership's grain bin monitoring system in Hoxie is expected to save $21,063 and generate 295,893 kilowatt hours of energy a year.

Funding is also being directed to other companies for solar arrays:

• $27,802 for a DK Wright Properties commercial rental property in Hector, in Pope County.

• $33,688 to NEA Veterinary Clinic in Corning.

• $39,375 for Curtiss Scott's poultry operations in Cave City.

• $45,657 to Collier Auto Supply, a NAPA auto parts dealer in Harrison.

• $48,600 to Batteau Blackwood Farms for a manufacturing property in Witter, in Madison County.

• $69,084 for a shopping center owned by Papoloco in Wynne.

A USDA Rural Development press release lists annual monetary savings ranging from $3,365 for Collier Auto Supply to $21,063 for B, E & S, whose solar array is expected to generate an annual 295,893 kilowatt hours of energy. Electricity generated by Collier Auto Supply's solar array is expected to make up 99% of its annual historic usage; Scott's generation is expected to be 73% of historic usage, and Batteau Blackwood Farms', 122%.

Christian Batteau produces wallpaper with his wife and partner, Heidi. The two moved to her native Northwest Arkansas from New York City, where they worked in the textile and wall coverings industry, in 2011. Jobs they had been working on for fashion houses' retail stores there "came through" after they began farming in Arkansas, he said, spurring them to set a workshop up in their home and hire employees.

They bought a dilapidated building on Ark. 23 in Witter and turned it into a larger working space. Demand for wallpaper increased their workload during the covid pandemic, as people stayed home more and began domestic improvement and interior design projects.

They had wanted to invest in renewable energy for their workplace, but existing federal tax rebates weren't strong enough to warrant their investment. Artisun Solar, an Overton Park, Kan.-based solar energy company, contacted them about the Rural Energy for America Program grants, which Batteau called "a great motivator" for them to move forward. Their array came online last month.

"It still absolutely feels like magic. We can't believe that the sun is providing the electricity for our manufacturing," he said. "We're pretty amazed and impressed that the government would partner with us on it."

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